POLITICS
“Georgians Will Be Georgians!” - Main message to Euro-Atlantic alliance
24 May, 2012

No Risk of Losing National Identify by Joining EU and NATO


It is enough to have a quick glance at his study and you will guess that this person has desperately fallen in love with Georgia – Georgian dagger (called Khanjali) is hanging on the wall in the middle of his study – next to Georgian horn-shaped wine vessels (called Kantsi). It is really amazing – I have never met with a foreigner who has understood Georgian national spirit so

deeply and precisely – a saying comes to mind: Georgian peasant used to hold a sword in one hand, (as he had to fight against the conquerors), and a wine glass in the other – symbol of highly developed viticulture. Toomas Lukk represents the Republic of Estonia in Georgia. He is a geographer by profession. Mr. Lukk confided with us that he did not associated with diplomacy until 1992 when Estonia regained independence and ‘a new opportunity appeared.’ He explains what it means to be a EU member, discusses Georgian character and is the first ambassador who admits that ambassadors generally like to talk. Good for you, Your Excellency! By the way, he happens to be the ambassador to Armenia at the same time. Mr. Lukk is the first Estonian resident ambassador in Tbilisi since our countries regained independence in 1991 and we are very pleased to have the chance to record this interview.

G.J: When did you arrive in Georgia?
T.L: My mission to Georgia started in 2008. It’s been almost four years that I have been here. This is my second mission, as I was an ambassador in Latvia before. However, my diplomatic career started in mid-1990s when I worked for the Estonian mission in the United Nations in New York.  
G.J: What were your first impressions?
T.L: As a matter of fact, Georgia was not a strange country to me. I was here during my university years. The first time I arrived here was in 1984. I remember we went to the Caucasus mountain range on foot. Then I came back to Georgia in 2000 and finally in 2008. What I have witnessed here is a significant progress. Residing in Georgia has given me a better opportunity to learn more about the country and its people. In four years, Georgia has become my second home – when your family is here and your kids grow up here, it’s not really a foreign country to you anymore.
G.J: What is your opinion about Georgia from the point of view of a diplomat and an ordinary person?
T.L: This country offers a lot of possibilities. If you are a visitor, it is important to figure out what you want to see. If you are a backpacker, like a lot of Estonians are, you can enjoy the nature and mountains. Visitors to Georgia have an opportunity to visit deserts in Davit Gareja, Kakheti region and subtropics in Batumi in Ajara region, or Alpine meadows in Mestia in Svaneti. So, it has a rich geographical variety. Also, I always talk about Georgian culture and traditions. Georgia is mentioned in Greek mythology, and this alludes to a long history of the country – the fabulous story of the Golden Fleece, for example, or Georgian version of Prometheus, where Amirani was punished by the Gods and chained to Kazbegi Mountain for stealing fire and giving it to the people. It is a country with a unique cultural identity. There are so many opportunities everywhere – in terms of culture, cuisine, history, geography… You simply have to identify what you want to find in Georgia. 
G.J: I can guess you are a fan of Georgian supra (feast) traditions…
T.L: I have been here for four years as I said and I have participated in many supras. I have had a chance to be a Tamada (toastmaster) a couple of times. I don’t know how it worked out (laughs). I appreciate Georgian supra as there is a positive spirit in it. People say good words to one another, they are respectful. It’s very positive. In terms of cuisine, it’s nice. I joke with my friends and remind them: ’Try a variety of Georgian dishes, but don’t  “hurt” yourself with Georgian hospitality.’ Because your dishes are so voluminous! Our traditions are different. I was a little bit surprised when I discovered that you had so many courses. We don’t have that much number of courses. You have to choose your food carefully in order not to overtax yourself (laughs).
G.J: Estonia is more or less a new member of the European Union. What can you say about the political course chosen by our government – are we going in the right direction?
T.L: Recently we celebrated the Day of Europe. I remember the course chosen by the Estonian government and by all other countries – it was directed toward the European Union and NATO integration. It was a continuous process requiring commitment and dedication, but in 2004 we did become a member of both organizations. During the referendum held in 2003, people wondered what it would be like to join these unions, but now everything is clear. There is a constant 70-80% strong public support, like in Georgia now. It’s very important for your government to maintain this course, and also it is important to have a public discussion. For instance – what are the consequences of joining these organizations?  People must have an understanding of what it means or what to expect. Our citizens, for instance, were inquiring as to whether or not Estonia would give up its sovereignty or lose its national identity.
Well, I remember seeing a postcard in Brussels, depicting every EU nation in a special humorous way. They were all put in the same postcard – the essence is that the frame of the postcard could be considered as the European Union, but the way of characterizing each nation underlines the respect for the uniqueness of each nation. So, I must say for sure that the EU does not impose any risk of losing cultural identity to any member state or country, like Georgia, who aspires to join it. We also have our traditions, which are being even strengthened instead of being weakened. Estonians have become even more drawn in into their traditions. More often than not people more frequently wear national clothes distinctive to the part of Estonia from which they come from. It is cultural richness that the European l kq1-0zxs Union supports, develops and strengthens.
G.J: What is the best quality of Georgians that will contribute to the EU family in the positive way considering the multicolored richness it appreciates?
T.L: I see Georgia also from the view of my Estonian friends who visit this country. There is literally no one who would not love to return to Georgia. What is it about Georgia that makes people love it and want to visit it again and again? I think there are two main things: Georgian traditions – not only dancing, not only food but also hospitality – and this is very distinct.  And the second is – as I said earlier – the richness of your country and your entire cultural heritage. Now, when a direct flight is performed between Tallinn and Tbilisi, I see growth in the number of Estonians coming to Georgia. This is very important in developing friendly relations and a mutual understanding. To answer your question in terms of the Georgian character, you don’t have to change anything. Georgians will be Georgians. Of course, you need to reach the political and economic approximation, but as a Georgian nation, the best thing is to stay Georgians - maintain your individuality, character and qualities.
G.J: You have probably had a couple of experiences with Georgian media. What is your view of it?
T.L: I have good relations with Georgian media, with all of those journalists who ever approached me. Media is polarized but has always been interested in getting an ambassador’s view. What I sometimes would like to see is that journalists go more into substance, and not just ask: what do you think of this event and so on - ambassadors like to talk business. Therefore, my personal feeling is that media could be more topical. Georgian media is very young - I see very many young journalists and I believe that there is room, in fact for all of us, to develop professional skills. We, Estonians, believe in the concept of lifelong learning.
G.J:  What about the judiciary and penitentiary systems?
T.L:   Estonia has been actively engaged in supporting many reforms in Georgia, including the penitentiary system. For some years, we had some cooperation in the judiciary system as well. I am sure Estonia offered its best experiences. I have been visiting a couple of facilities and I have seen their activities. This area needs constant reforms, attention and effort.
G.J: What can you say about the priorities of the Estonian Embassy?
T.L: We have had a number of humanitarian projects supporting Georgia, which involved Estonian psychologists who worked in the field of post-crisis rehabilitation, dealing with the aftermath of the Russian aggression against Georgia, national EOD team, humanitarian assistance, etc. In 2010, priorities shifted and our activities become more focused on practical daily routine of the diplomatic relations like cultural and educational exchange and others. Just couple of weeks ago when we celebrated Europe Day, some of the very best Estonian artists performed together with Georgian artists at a concert in the Royal District Theatre. That was not just a concert but a fusion of Estonian and Georgian cultures.
We are developing cultural ties step by step and hopefully we will be able to organize Georgian cultural days in Estonia. We are in the process.
In terms of education, Tartu University, my own alma mater, has become one of the top European Universities with good curricula and a developed infrastructure. The same goes about the other Estonian universities too. During last 20 years they have pushed hard to improve the quality of education and they are interested in increasing the enrollment of foreign students. Today, there are around 30 Georgian students studying in different universities in Estonia, mainly in Tartu and Tallinn. Last year, the Estonian universities came for the first time to Georgia to introduce themselves. About a month ago we had a remarkable event at Tbilisi State University where six Estonian universities and higher education institutions provided information about opportunities to study in Estonia. Interest among Georgian students was high. The prices are competitive. Since I am an alumnus of Tartu University myself, we usually celebrate its “birthday” every October together with Georgian students who have studied at Estonian universities. We consider them as a part of the Estonian Diaspora in Georgia (he smiles pleasantly).
G.J: We have not specifically talked about the Georgian culture. How would you comment on it?
T.L: While talking about Georgia, the cultural heritage comes to my mind including art. I like to go to the National Museum and to the museum of History. Visiting county museums is almost a must thing to do where you can find very interesting artifacts too. 
G.J: Who is your favorite Georgian artist?
T.L: There are many of them. Just to name a few - Elene Akhvlediani and Ilia Patashuri. I have visited Elene Akhvlediani’s house-museum as well as Ilia Patashuri’s house gallery. Their pictures are wonderful, one of Elene Akhvlediani’s pictures, which is displayed at the National Museum, was painted in Tallinn. To say nothing about Pirosmani and his wonderful pictures in the museum in Signagi. Georgians have a great intellectual capacity; take your artists, chess-players, etc.
G.J: How do you spend your free time here?
T.L: I try to be with my family. During my free time I play, although irregularly, basketball. I still hike. From time to time, I go to the mountains, not for days like during my young years but for hours. I still enjoy it. It is not for pleasure but also for physical fitness. I try to do this on a regular basis.
G.J: Have you ever heard of the event organized by Georgian Journal that revealed the Ambassador of the Year? What do you think – is it interesting and challenging for you as for an ambassador?
T.L:  Yes, and I appreciate it. I think it’s a very nice gesture towards foreign diplomats to appreciate their activities. I think all ambassadors in Georgia are genuinely supporting this country, they are friends of Georgia. It’s not only words. Their sustained activities and practical steps taken in supporting reforms, providing financial assistance, promoting cultural exchange and many other endeavors is the best proof of it. Putting sometimes uncomfortable questions to Georgian authorities is part of our support. Trust me on that. It is an expression of empathy and consideration to Georgia. If you, being journalists and independent observers, find a way to appreciate our work, it’s fantastic!

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